RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Secrecy About GMO Food Breeds Rumors

Just heard the best scary rumor ever, going around the quick shop coffee groups in the neighborhood. These are the clusters of folks, mostly men and mostly farmers, that gather over coffee when crops are in. Conversation ranges from how-many-bushels-per-acre to how much work it took to get the combine running again to scandals heard on the AM radio station while engaged in the deeply boring and lonely task of driving back and forth over a couple thousand acres of monotonously flat ground.

The rumor goes like this: In two years, China will be free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

If you’re a scholar of rumors, you’ll recognize that this has all the elements. It plays on a deep fear (in this case, the farmers’ fear of losing US markets) and has just enough truth and connection to the present reality to provide conversation. A guy could consume three or four donuts in the time it takes to just conjecture about where they’ll get the GMO-free seed. Interesting that the good old boys, that were saving their own seed until the late 1990s, have forgotten how to do it.

In fact, while China grows loads of GMO cotton, they’ve held back on raising GMO food. Much of the GMO food consumed in China — soybeans mostly—is imported from the US or South America. It is supposed to be labeled as GMO, but Chinese consumers complain that it is not. The Chinese government is not forthcoming with enforcement of the labeling requirement.

I’ve heard this GMO-Free-China rumor twice from my big-farmer neighbors, and the second time I had the presence of mind to ask, “Why?” The answer came quickly, and this from a good old boy GMO farmer.

“Because of all the research,” he said. When I pressed further, he provided backup. Secret research in China has proven that “all those cancers” and “all that asthma” is due to the bad effects of GMOs in the diet. As further proof, he mentioned the well-known fact that Jack’s cows won’t eat GMO corn stalks, and that even the deer around here ignore it.

As he got exercised, his face turning red, he touched on the suspicion that “they” are trying to get rid of “us.” That’s why “they” don’t let “us” know what’s in our food. Did he want labeling, then? I’ll have to take that up another, quieter, time.

By “us,” as in “getting rid of us,” he meant US citizens, I think, or maybe just the Christian ones. Maybe just the Christian, rural ones. No telling where that thread could have gone, but I was stepping back. As I moved away, he concluded, “I just don’t trust the government.”

From a safe distance, I was able to remind him that we are the government, that industry is the real problem, and then I hopped in my truck and offered a few tidbits of my own. Our sheep had gotten out a few days ago, led across the road and into the neighbor’s GMO soybean field by our intrepid guard donkey. By the time I got there, they had skibbled back across the road into their safe little pasture. Nibbled a little of the weird soy, it seems, and decided to go back to their good old chemical-free fescue.

More serious was my anecdote about the dogs. One by one, our three dogs had become itchy over the summer. The eldest, an extremely active border collie, was losing weight and hair. Her tail, as everyone pointed out, looked awful. It was embarrassing … to her and to me. We’d both been so proud of her fluffy tail.

The vet couldn’t find anything, provided some pills and a hundred-dollar charge. I did all the usual stuff—worming, flea baths and so forth. Three vet visits didn’t change things. Still, she declined.

So, OK, I went to google and typed in “itchy dog.” In no time, as you know if you have ever googled, I had thousands of websites to choose from. Several of them recommended moving to a GMO-free diet. This was shocking. You can get information about GMOs and your dog but not about GMOs and your kid?

After shelling out obscene amounts of money for a grain-free dog food, I found one that’s fairly reasonably priced, with a sweet potato base. And, yes, dog food would be the perfect place to hide GMO sweet potatoes, away from the consumers’ prying eyes.

So, now that the farmers’ market season is about over, I’m into the cleaning-out-the-freezer season and will be able to cook up some dog food from our meat scraps and our very own home-grown leftovers. That is, after all, what the dog diet looked like before, mostly.

And I’m happy to report that Bonnie the border collie is growing new hair and her tail, while not fluffy, is at least presentable in time for the holidays.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. She blogs at Email:

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2013

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